Great introductions are less about what is said and more about who’s doing the talking.
— Matthew Freedman
This is the 71st installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
I’ve been writing a lot about pitchers lately:
That last one is my piece from yesterday. It’s a beauty: Organized, straightforward, systematic, and totally un-Freedman in a number of other ways. Actually, all three of these pieces have been pretty un-Freedman-esque in their lack of randomness.
Like those pieces, today’s is about pitchers — but it won’t be nearly as clean as these previous articles. I’m going old school — if reverting to thoughtless pseudo-paragraphs that eventually work their way into a point can be considered ‘old school.’
This isn’t The Labyrinthian you want. But it’s pretty close to The Labyrinthian you deserve . . .
A Few Random Facts About My Life
Here are (more than) a few random facts about my life, some of which might actually tie into what I intend to talk about later in this piece.
— I recently moved from Colorado to Iowa.
— Every year for Christmas my mother gives me these horrible inspirational one-a-day desk calendars. I never read them — I think stuff like that is pretty useless. I take that back. They’re actually functional as bookends. (See Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s thoughts on such ‘auxiliary redundancy’ in The Black Swan.)
— When I was packing for the move, I didn’t really sort through anything. I just basically threw everything in my office into boxes, thinking, “If I need this junk in Colorado then I’ll probably need it in Iowa.” Within that thought are at least two really f*cking dumb assumptions.
— I sh*t you not: When I was growing up, my parents had a photo of Ronald Reagan on the refrigerator. Photos of me, photos of my sister, photos of relatives, photos of family friends, photos of family pets, photos of random vacation spots — and among all of that . . . a photo of Ronald Reagan . . . years after his presidency.
— My wife is great at setting up her office and living and working spaces. She’s fast and efficient. I move at a slow pace. When she’s organizing, she’s only organizing. When I’m organizing, I get sidetracked. I start reading old books as I put them on the shelves. I obsess about where in the office I should put the pillow on which my dog spends about 12 hours each day. I find old Star Wars action figures and wonder how many of them I can juggle and for how many seconds. I allow myself to get distracted.
— My parents now have a photo of George Bush on the refrigerator, although I think it’s displayed with a touch of irony. I asked my dad about it once. This is the same man who used to fine me $0.25 for attempting (poorly) to be funny. His response: “I like that photo. It reminds me that I’m not the dumbest person in my house.” [Insert here some statement about apples and trees.]
— When I was unpacking boxes in my Iowan office — and, by the way, ‘Iowan’ totally sounds like the name of some character in Game of Thrones or The Hobbit — I found the one-a-day desk calendar my mother had given me for 2015. For 2015. Yes, I had transported across the country an object that 1) I think is almost worthless and 2) outdated. When I saw it, I felt like an idiot.
— When I was young, my father would also fine me $0.25 if I called anyone an idiot. He thought that I could come up with better, more creative and imaginative insults.
— So as not to feel like a total idiot, when I found the 2015 one-a-day desk calendar full of useless declarations (mostly by former presidents), I decided that I should read it, just so that I could say to myself, “See, there’s a reason you moved that useless object across the country. You wanted to be able to read it when you got here.” In other words, in order not to feel like an idiot . . . I acted like an idiot.
Thanks for reading.
Where and What I Read
I sat down on the hardwood floor of my office, next to my baseball glove from high school and a bag of baseballs, and I read short blurb after short blurb of non-inspirational ‘inspiration’ transcribed soundbites. And then something unexpected happened.
One of the blurbs inspired me.
There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder.
— Ronald Reagan
You know what? I might’ve mislead you. I wasn’t inspired as in, “I want to become a better person.” Oh, that’s what you thought? Well, don’t be an idiot.
I was inspired as in, “I’ve just had a thought about MLB DFS.” There was just something about sitting on the floor next to the baseballs and thinking about the concept of limitlessness. Naturally, my mind went to Taleb.
Pitchers Are From Mediocristan
In The Black Swan, Taleb talks at length about scalability and non-scalability. If an action is scalable, it allows you “to add zeros to your output (and your income), if you do well, at little or no extra effort.” If an action is non-scalable, there is a limit to what you can accomplish. Per Taleb, if you are a dentist or consultant, “there is a cap on the number of patients or clients you can see in a given period of time.” Or, phrased differently, “If you are a prostitute, you work by the hour and are (generally) paid by the hour.” I’m not sure how many prostitutes Taleb imagined would be reading his book, but anyway . . .
That which is scalable is theoretically limitless. That which is non-scalable is “subject to gravity.”
And that which is scalable Taleb says belongs to the imaginary realm of Extremistan, a place that is competitive, random, full of inequalities, and capable of “the formation of unexpected giants — the Black Swan formation.” (By the way, the Black Swan is an unforeseen occurrence with outsized consequences. In general, part of the reason we don’t see it is because the Black Swan resides in ‘territories’ we seldom visit.) Per Taleb, “In Extremistan, inequalities are such that one single observation can disproportionately impact the aggregate, or the total.” In other words, #BlackSwan.
Whereas the scalable belongs to Extremistan, the non-scalable belongs to Mediocristan, which Taleb describes as a “utopian province [in which] particular events don’t contribute much individually — only collectively.” According to Taleb, “the supreme law of Mediocristan [is] as follows: When your sample is large, no single instance will significantly change the aggregate or the total.” Mediocristan is the realm of Gaussian distribution, the bell curve, and the mean: Literally, the mediocre.
This next sentence might be debatable, but let’s just take it as a working hypothesis for now: Extremistan is the world of guaranteed prize pools, and Mediocristan is the world of cash games. Certainly, there can be some functional overlap — Extremistan can inform cash games and Mediocristan can inform GPPs — but in general if you want to win GPPs then you are hunting for Black Swans, and if you want to win cash games then you are likely to roster players whose median projections (you believe) can be determined with great consistency.
And here’s where everything comes together: If you are playing in a GPP and hunting for Black Swans — if you are attempting to benefit from the vagaries of randomness — then you might want not to invest a lot of your salary cap in pitchers, because they’re not from Extremistan.
Pitchers are from Mediocristan.
Even the Best Pitcher in the World Has Limited Upside
Here’s something you’ve maybe never thought about: Even the best pitcher in the world has limited upside in reality and fantasy.
In MLB history there have been only 23 perfect games, per 1) Wikipedia and 2) a random book (given to me by my mother) about baseball and spirituality — because I believe in using the best sources possible.
Now let’s imagine the most perfect of perfectos: 27 strikeouts in a row — basically just a pitcher and a catcher throwing the ball back and forth.
According to FanDuel’s MLB Rules & Scoring, such a game would result in 120 points — 12 for the win, 81 for the strikeouts, and 27 for the innings. That’s an incredible game.
Under the MLB Scoring Rules on DraftKings, that game would be worth 88.25 points, which is still an incredible total.
But that’s the best that a pitcher can do. In theory a perfect game could go into extra innings and a pitcher could accumulate more points, but not only is there a fairly hard points limit on pitchers — there’s also a physical limit. These aren’t the 1910s. Pitchers don’t go 12 innings deep anymore if a game goes into extra innings. Pitchers are capped by pitch limits.
You get the point: Pitchers belong to Mediocristan.
Now ask yourself this question: If you are competing in a GPP — if you are in the world of Extremistan — is it the best practice to invest a high percentage of your salary space in an asset from Mediocristan? — especially when . . .
Batters Are From Extremistan
Just as the world’s best pitcher has limited upside, so too does the world’s worst batter have un-lim-ah-ted POW-AHHHER!!!
I probably don’t need to spend too much time on this. We all know the scoring potential that various lineups have . . . stacking is a good thing . . . a lineup in theory could score a nearly limitless number of runs in a nine-inning game without undergoing the type of physical exertion necessitating that players be removed before the contest ends. After all, the Home Run Derby is essentially based on the idea that a group of guys can just stand around the plate hitting home runs for hours without tiring themselves out too much.
It’s never extremely likely that a team will score 30 runs in a game, but it has happened.
And here’s a really big point: I’m not talking about what’s likely. I’m talking about what’s possible, because GPPs are about what’s possible and unlikely.
It’s possible one day that we will see a team score 60 runs in a game. But it’s not possible that we will ever see a pitcher throw an 18-inning perfect game, because such a feat is simply not pragmatically possible with modern pitchers (and modern managers).
It’s technically possible that a pitcher will one day unleash the holiest of holy perfect games, but the odds are infinitesimally small. The longer a pitcher throws, the likelier he is to give up a hit and to be removed by a manager, whereas the more a lineup wears down a pitching staff in a game the likelier that staff is to allow more runs. Both scenarios might seem equally unlikely, but they’re not.
For GPPs, this fact is very important: Pitcher is from Mediocristan, Batter is from Extremistan, and Corn is from Iowan.
How Are You Building Your GPP Rosters?
In the words of Jimi Hendrix, “Are you extremistan?” Or something like that.
I don’t want to push too hard on this point. I’m not saying that you must roster only cheap pitchers in GPPs — although we have shown recently that cheap pitchers can have big games — even at Coors. It would be stupid for me to say that you should roster only cheap pitchers, because there are always so many factors to consider, such as ownership, slate-specific pricing dynamics, the evolving trends of the DFS market, etc.
I am saying, though, that you should consider the possibility that you might be using resources suboptimally if you are 1) committing a large portion of your salary space to pitchers in GPP lineups and 2) investing a lot of your DFS bankroll in such GPP lineups.
Basically, I’m saying that at a minimum you should strongly consider using the ‘Cheap Pitcher Theory’ as part of a larger strategy for GPP asset allocation. Maybe diversify into some less expensive pitching options on a more regular basis.
On FanDuel, it’s not uncommon for DFS players to commit 30 percent of their salary space to the pitching position. On DraftKings, that number could easily reach 40 percent. In GPPs, does it make sense to invest that much in a position with an upside that — even if it’s high — is unquestionably capped?
When you are trying to leverage the unlikely, limiting exposure to the markets of Mediocristan seems like a good idea.
The Labyrinthian: 2016, 71
Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page. If you have suggestions on material I should know about or even write about in a future Labyrinthian, please contact me via email, [email protected], or Twitter @MattFtheOracle.